Viewpoint: Corporate campaign spending fuels political conspiracies
America is blessed as an open society. But sometimes it can be a curse. In Merchants of Doubt historians Oreskes and Conway describe how a small group of Cold War physicists repeatedly argued that smoking doesn’t cause cancer. They created an army of truth deniers to serve the interests of people who could be financially harmed (tobacco companies).
Later, other deniers misinform people that the climate isn’t changing. Some argued that deadly pesticides like DDT do more good than harm. Now, ‘January 6’ was peaceful and the 2020 election was fraudulent. Fomenting doubt by spreading disinformation to the public is the coordinated objective.
Americans didn’t simply wake up one morning and wonder if the ‘California wildfires were started by a Jewish space laser’, the COVID-19 vaccine might contain microchips, or ‘Jan.6’ was an FBI scheme.
Modern science denial began when the heads of the four largest tobacco companies gathered at the Plaza Hotel in New York City to create a plan to destroy the research that would damage their financial interests. They hired public relations specialists, scientists, journalists to get the public to question the truth about smoking, something proven by scientists. This launched a whole new “industry” to change public opinions by revolutionizing ways to fight science/facts.
In the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones couldn’t identify the true lost ‘Ark’ because it was among dozens of replicas. Steve Bannon once revealed that to change public opinions, simply flood the “public zone with BS”; create a “Lost Ark” situation to confuse people and question the truth. Trump spokesperson Kelly Ann Conway stated the objective succinctly: create ‘alternative facts’.
The storming of the capitol on January 6th was disturbing, but election denial became a ‘Lost Ark’ strategy. ‘Patriots’ in war paint and army fatigues, sharpened flagpoles and pepper spray were the inevitable result of nearly 70 years of time-tested strategies to change public opinions about evolution, global warming, vaccines, tobacco, the ‘COVID flu’, and in this case: election denial. Many lies deny scientific facts simply because they differ from the financial and political concerns of moneyed political and financial institutions. This strategy has proven effective.
In our open society, the advent of social media and unlimited political spending after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision has created the biggest challenge to truth in our nation’s history.
Powerful and unscrupulous politicians and moneyed interests have found a way to change the course and structure of our country’s democratic system to their benefit. Tobacco companies were eventually found at fault for causing cancer from smoking, but in our open democratic society, the curse is that the pursuit of power often reveals nefarious actors, which result in a misinformed populace.